Thursday, February 12, 2009

On being very old

I’m not there yet, but I know someone who is. A man, wealthy, old, alone, sits and waits for death to come and get him. He has tons of money, but can’t seem to pay disease enough to stay away, certainly can’t pay death not to come and harvest him. His children are not the type to gather solemnly around the bed, ready to serve his every need, ready to talk him through this time, ready to just be there. They are, instead, the kind of kids who stay resolutely away, waiting for him to die so they can have all that lovely money.
This is the place for ironic comments on wealth, health, children, love, loneliness, and all that sort of stuff that such a topic seems to generate: old grouchy misers turning into loving grandfather types and so on. But think about it for a moment. Here’s this old guy, can’t move much, can’t get out and around, has no family who want to visit him. What’s he got? Well, he’s got a warm fire to sit by, or a nice window to look out of. But, more than that, I hope at least, he’s got memories. Memories of a life well lived, of adventures and misadventures, of a woman’s love and a family raised. Of successes and high times, what psychologists call “peak moments.” In those times when there’s nothing on TV, when the books on CD have all been read, in that time between waking and sleep, when he says, “Do I live? Am I dead,” he has his whole life to relive.
If he’s lived a full one. And there’s the rub, as my friend Bill says. We need to live full, exciting, daring, doing lives. Because at the end, the memories of that life will be all we have as we wait in our beds for the shadows to get longer and longer until they take us away.


bekkieann said...

And don't forget to laugh a lot, too! In my advancing years, I think about those times that made us laugh, and I laugh again until I cry.

Your philosophy is so true. I'm not there yet, either, but already I tell my kids, don't cry when I die, as I've already had such a wonderful life and couldn't have asked for more. Anything from here on is just gravy.

On both your houses said...

Nice thought Bekkieann. Robert Browning wrote a poem called, "The Bishop Orders his Funeral," in which the man speaking is hanging between life and death. He thinks, but mostly about how he'll be remembered; basically selfish thoughts. How much better to drift and dream about the times you had with your children and the people you love.